O’Connell celebrates 100 years of life, says optimism is important

A picture of Shirley O'Connell waving at guest's, who came to celebrate her birthday milestone. Courtesy/The Signal

Shirley O’Connell clutches her iPad as she sits, celebrating her 100th birthday and waiting for a moment worthy of being captured using the camera on her tablet. Her excitement to capture memories and using the latest technology is part of the fabric of Shirley O’Connell and her youthful energy — even at 100 years old. 

O’Connell celebrated her 100th birthday recently with friends, neighbors and family at the Atria Senior Living community. Surrounded by her husband Jack Ogborn and loved ones, it was a true celebration of O’Connell’s life with picture collages, flowers, tiaras, cake and balloons. 

“I’ve lived 100 years, and I know it’s hard to believe, I can’t believe it,” O’Connell said. 

Gale Springer-Chorpash, director of engagement at Atria, with the help of Johnny Ortiz and her assistant Irma Berg, helped organize the birthday celebration and they were mesmerized by the liveliness of O’Connell since the day she moved into the facility. 

“We were just like, this lady is just something else, energetic, friendly and able to come to our activities, participate and loves Jack to death,” Springer-Chorpash said. “She’s just a very interesting character.” 

Springer-Chorpash said O’Connell carries her iPad everywhere, taking photos of others and events at the senior living community. 

“She’ll take those pictures, prints and shows them to people, which gives them memories of things that have happened,” Springer-Chorpash said. 

A picture of Shirley O’Connell as a child in Wisconsin, and playing with her doll. Courtesy/The Signal

O’Connell was born on Jan. 9, 1922, in Evansville, Wisconsin, a small town 30 minutes south of the city of Madison. Her father, Norman Lunde, was a Wisconsin state chess champion who supported his family as a Linotype operator.  

During the Great Depression, Lunde had no work and became a photographer to make a living during the nation’s most trying times. Her father’s influence left a lasting impact and furthered her love of photography. 

At 19, O’Connell married Milton Plumb. He was stationed in Chicago during World War II, and she took the train to visit him before deployment. She had moved her seat in a train at the suggestion of the conductor, who advised the middle would be more comfortable for her since she was pregnant.  

Shortly after, the train was involved in a severe incident that took the lives of the individuals who took O’Connell’s seat after she moved. Plumb was deployed to North Africa and Italy during World War II. After returning, Plumb would die at the Veteran Administration Hospital in Wisconsin. 

In 1947, O’Connell had lived the first 25 years in Wisconsin but made the change and moved to Arleta in the San Fernando Valley, where she would reside for more than 70 years.  

A few years later, O’Connell would marry Army soldier Jack O’Connell, who would attend Cal Poly Pomona, become an aeronautical engineer and work for Lockheed. Jack O’Connell died of cancer in 1977. 

One day exploring the Panorama Mall, O’Connell would run into a fellow “mall walker,” Jack Ogborn. Ogborn was a former radio operator in World War II and the Korean War.  

For 30 years, Ogbornwould bring a rose for O’Connell every morning. In addition, Ogborn’s work as a member of the Screen Actors Guild allowed the couple to attend many celebrity events and dinners.  

The celebrities O’Connell has pictures with include Betty White, Michael Douglas and many celebrities from movies to television.  

The couple was breaking bread with the rich and famous but also enjoyed a healthy hobby of geocaching, a recreational treasure hunt of people searching for caches or hidden objects. 

There has never been a specific decade O’Connell loves the most, but when she met her husband Jack Ogborn, she said it was one of the best moments in her life. 

“It’s hard to say because all decades have been pretty good, but I’ve had some bad ones. I’ve had two husbands who have died, they were sick for years,” O’Connell said. “So after that, I met Jack and that’s a better decade because we went on cruises and we did geocaching.” 

The couple’s hobbies included making greeting cards, video presentations and photography. This passion for life would continue even as they sold their home in Arleta and moved into the Atria Community. 

“My son taught me how to use an iPad and after that, he told me that they have the digital camera in them,” O’Connell said.  

There is no secret to O’Connell’s longevity or health: She stays up late and tries to eat healthily, but she just lives by the day and enjoys her days with Ogborn. 

“I didn’t expect to live this long, but I live one day at a time,” O’Connell said. “I feel good, so I don’t think about dying.” 

When reflecting on her life, O’Connell said to stay happy and positive, and your body will respond to those emotions.  

“I say every day is a surprise and I try to keep optimistic,” O’Connell said. “It’s your attitude about life that makes you who you are.” 

Shirley O’Connell and her husband Jack Ogborn pose in front of the birthday decorations at the Atria Senior Living facilities. Victor Corral Martinez/The Signal

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